We’d better wake up or we won’t be able to smell the coffee anymore.
By Dean Cycon
For several years government officials and scientists have argued whether global warming was a man-made or a natural phenomenon. They have wrestled over droughts, air circulation patterns, icecaps and a thousand other indicators of whether global warming was “likely” or “directly” our fault. In spite of the strong belief in the scientific community that all our cars, factories and other activities were speeding up global warming at an alarming rate, the politicians managed to get the official verdict to be “likely.”
High in the Sierra Nevada (“Snow-Capped Mountains”) of Colombia, indigenous Arhuaco coffee farmer Javier Mestres had no such doubts. He did not see things in parts per million. He had never heard of the Global Circulation Model that tried to measure increments of change in the temperature of the ocean or dynamics of the atmosphere. He was unaware the international report stated Colombia would heat up dramatically in the next 20 years and lose 90 percent of its glacial snow caps by 2050. Javier saw the results of a warming planet clearly in the premature flowering of his coffee plants on his four-acre family farm in the slopes above Nabusimake, the capital of the Arhuaco nation. He showed me the smaller, weaker berries that dotted the stems and wondered why the outside world wanted to harm these beautiful plants. Why were we changing the world?
For centuries the Arhuaco spiritual elders, the Mamos, known in their language as the “Elder Brothers,” have carried out monthly rituals in sacred sites throughout the Sierra Nevada, which they call “the Heart of the World,” to insure the planet is kept in a geo-spiritual balance. But for the past two decades, the Mamos have seen rapid changes in the Heart of the World. They have watched snow caps on their sacred peaks shrink and the plant life change. They have felt the lessening of the water in the air and soil, and noted the changing migration patterns of the birds. They want to share their awareness with the outside world, with us – the “Younger Brothers.”
Last year I went to Colombia to experience the impacts of global warming on the Heart of the World. I met with young Arhuaco farmers and ancient Mamos. They talked about the drying up of rivers due to the lessened snow at the peaks and erratic rainfall of the past few years, and movement of plant species up the mountains as a result of greater heat and less water at lower altitudes.
“It is as if you can see the plants trying to run from the sun and the heat,” one farmer reflected. Eighty-three year-old Mamo, Don Faumbautista, shared his insight with me: “Beyond the Heart of the World, the Younger Brother is changing the whole earth. The Mother is getting warmer. The rain falls differently. It is later, but it falls harder. It is destructive when it should be nurturing. Many of the rivers are dry before they reach the sea. And the snows on the peaks are less each year. It is all happening very quickly. The Younger Brothers are waging a war on the earth and it must stop!”
There is a lot of scientific evidence on the impact of global warming on coffee production (and the lives of producers) around the world. The United Nations estimates 90% of Ugandan low-altitude coffee will disappear in 20 years. During a recent visit to Kenya, I walked through coffee fields scorched to death by a year-long drought. India, Tanzania and other countries will be similarly affected. Yet the most telling evidence comes from the farmers themselves, who are painfully aware of global warming and can’t do much about it.
About Dean Cycon
Dean Cycon is a long time lawyer/activist/development worker in indigenous communities throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas. He created Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company 18 years ago to model how a for-profit business could be an effective catalyst and partner for social change in communities where they sources their coffees and cocoa. He is truly a pioneer in combining business and social justice.
Photos: (1) Dean and Wangari Maathai plant a tree in Kenya; (2) Coffee fields desiccated by drought in Kenya.
Talback Readers: What will you do if coffee prices go through the roof? Will you hoard? Fight global warming? Or both? Tell us on Talback!